Many people keep gratitude to themselves. They feel it but don’t express it. Like you, they assume the other person already knows how much they are appreciated or they worry about finding the right words to say what they want to say.
Putting pen to paper or sending a thank you email may seem unnecessary or feel awkward but it’s definitely worth it. According to a recent study, we systematically underestimate the positive impact of expressing gratitude and overestimate how uncomfortable expressions of gratitude might make someone else feel. Misunderstanding the consequences of saying thanks keeps us from engaging in a simple action that would make us and someone else a little happier. The conclusion of the study is crystal clear: every time we don’t express gratitude, we are missing an opportunity to give others and ourselves a boost.
Gertrude Stein famously said, “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” She was right. Say it. Write it. Express it somehow. Whatever you do, please don’t keep it to yourself.
Is there a secret recipe for expressing gratitude? I don’t think so. There are many creative ways to go about it. Here’s my blueprint for writing a letter:
Address and stamp the envelope first
Getting started is often the hardest part. And once I have committed that stamp to the envelope, I’m already halfway there. As soon as I get this step out of the way, I can concentrate on the actual content of the letter and not worry about logistics. It’s liberating.
Include details. I do my best to make it relevant and meaningful for the person I am writing to. It doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be heartfelt and genuine.
Use a pen
Even if someone’s handwriting is messy, a handwritten note expresses so much more than a typed or emailed one. Putting pen to paper takes a different kind of effort. Its very nature relays to the receiver the time and effort you put into it. It is authentic and “not a cut-and-pasted, global searched-and-replaced bit of faux intimacy” as described by psychologist Chris Peterson.
Stationery is optional
I adore beautiful cards but they are not a requirement. A post card or a blank piece of paper work just as well. It is the thought that counts. When I was an intern, a patient once wrote me a beautiful thank you note on the back of a paper towel. It lived in the pocket of my white coat for months. Just knowing it was there provided me with strength and courage.
I consider what I want to say beforehand and give myself time to write it. Part of the beauty of writing a letter is that it forces me to slow down.
Give it your full attention
Chris Peterson says it best:
The thing about writing a letter, unlike e-mails or the phone, is that no one can multitask while doing so. A letter represents undivided attention and is precious as a consequence.
Both sending and receiving a handwritten note has a boosting effect. Whenever I receive one, I pin it on what I call my Gratitude Wall. For me, it is a kaleidoscope of goodness and an embodiment of connection and meaning. Knowing someone has taken the time and made the effort to handwrite me a note fills me with gratitude and inspires me to do the same. In short, it’s a two-way thrill.
Two thousand years ago, Cicero said:
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.